The spirit of fairness in the RTE Act4 min read

September 29, 2012 3 min read


The spirit of fairness in the RTE Act4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

April 12, 2012 – A “supremely” significant date in the history of this country.  Chief Justice S. H. Kapadia, Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan, the three members of the bench of the Supreme Court who were appointed to look into the petition filed by the Society for un-aided private schools, Rajasthan and as many as 31 others into the Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (or RTE) have spoken. The decision was in favour of the implementation of the RTE Act by a majority of 2:1.

Private educators from around the country had never come together as they did right now.  They all cried foul. Critics said that this act is aimed at passing the buck on to private players to make up for the many inadequacies by the government school system. What irked private schools the most was the fact that none of them were consulted before drafting such an act. The government woke up one day and realized the level of inequity in education in this country and so hastily drafted the RTE Act. And now, the private schools have to think of a way to accommodate 25 percent of children in their schools coming from marginalized backgrounds and ensure that they get a quality education among other things stated in the RTE Act.

In all this pettiness, we seem to have forgotten the very stakeholders that this whole exercise is aimed to have an impact on – the children of this country. Children that need to be looked at holistically and not making comparisons between children from better off backgrounds versus children from low income families, children from the north versus children from the south, and so on, just looking at children of this county and nothing more. So how do we know what is best for the children of this country? What are the policies and acts that we should work towards drafting and implementing that are fair for all children?

To understand fairness, I ask you to assume, for the sake of argument, that you are going to enter into this world sometime within the next five minutes and that you are ignorant about where you are going to be born. You could be born into a house of tremendous wealth or you could be born in a slum or anywhere in between. By assuming this scenario, you are abandoning any knowledge of your current social status – your wealth, your health, your natural talents, the opportunities that you have got till now and any other goodies that the universe may have thrown your way. John Rawls, the famous philosopher calls this “The veil of ignorance”.

The answer to these questions, when posed in this way is clear. What is happening now is anything but fair. You have on one hand a set of students going to some of the best private schools because they are born in families of high income and as a result of this get access to the highest quality education money can buy. Recently a few private schools have made it compulsory for all students to bring iPad’s to school and the learning that the children receive from innovative ways like these is amazing. This is great. But what about the crores of kids going to government schools for whom even a running fan in their classrooms is considered as technology? What gross mistake did they make for them not to have the same access to a high quality education as their peers are receiving? A flip of a coin determines whether you are born in a family of high income or a family of low income. But that flip of a coin more often than not determines the direction for the rest of your life.

The veil of ignorance gives us an idea of fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view.  To conclude, I want you to close your eyes for 30 seconds and don the veil of ignorance and ask yourself this question that Rawls want you to ask- “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?”


Ratan Manglani is Fellowship Recruitment Associate, Teach For India

The views expressed in the blog are personal.


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